LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier

I am more than a warehouse for my vast collections. When they no longer serve my needs or my wants, it’s time for someone else to have them, time for someone else to learn from them, to admire them, to enjoy them.

My column today for Fine Art Views tackles another chapter in our big life change.

See anything you like in here? Make me an offer!

See anything you like in here? Make me an offer!

All I’m gonna say is, a whole lotta books are involved.
Enjoy!

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GO AWAY ALREADY!! Part Deux

So what happened after my plea for the last of the snow to just go away gracefully? (Or else…)

This:

It's just not fair.

It’s just not fair.

That’s it, New Hampshire. Now you’re just messin’ with me.

I am breaking up with you.

And Dear Readers, before you start telling me about the joys and gifts of winter, let me just share something I’ve noticed…

Everyone who feels that way? They haven’t been around winter as long as I have.

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GO AWAY ALREADY!!!

New Hampshire pile o'snow, will you please go NOW??  (Sung to the tune of "Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!")

New Hampshire pile o’snow, will you please go NOW?? (Sung to the tune of “Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!”)

Ode to the last bit of snow in a New Hampshire spring….

Dear little pile of nearly-melted snow in our front lawn,
Yesterday it was 78 degrees. Last night it rained. Today it is still raining.
And yet you are still here.
All the other little piles of snow have gone. They have moved on.
They have returned to the Great Water Spirit in the sky.
Some have already returned to us as gentle rain.
Some have merged with the Big Ocean Waters.
Some may come again as snow. (But hopefully, not until November. Or even December. And certainly not in California.)
And yet you are still here.
What’s keeping you??
Is it the fear of melty death?
Fear not, for all snow eventually meets its end. And you will, too.
Are you striving for some sort of new record?
Alas, that is beyond your grasp already. You surely cannot last past Easter, and yae, I have seen snow in the late spring many, many, many times in New Hampshire.
Are you just trying to piss me off?
Give it up already. You’ve succeeded.
So melt away, little pile of snow.
No one shall mourn for thee, especially if you hang around much longer.
Go in peace,
Or I shall return tonight with a kettle of boiling water,
And send you on your way.
With loathing and dire threats love and fond memories,
Luann.

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LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Transition is a Hard Place to Live

I keep forgetting to let you know about my Fine Art Views articles! Today’s post is available here.

Takeaway: Change is hard, being in the middle of change sucks. Unless you embrace it and find the blessings. My favorite quote so far: “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.”

Enjoy!

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ASK THE GURU (NOT!)

Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.

Why a tree picture today? I have no idea. It just felt right.

Way, way too many days ago, I received a letter from a reader, begging for advice.

It’s ironic, because in her story is a lot of heartache, a ton of perseverance, a long journey of pursuing her craft despite loss, setbacks and disappointments and one simple request: Would I give her one word of advice about her next big step? (Which, by the way, she’d already thought out and which also sounds pretty darn marvelous.)

I promised her a response and here it is:

I am not the wise woman you’re looking for.

And of course, because I am me, and why use one sentence when a couple hundred will do, there are many threads behind that response.

The first thread: I truly am not a wise woman. I have some life experience, but nothing that gives me the moral right to say anything about yours. I love to tell people what to do. But I’m also terrified that someone will do what I say, and suffer for it. (So I’m a bossy coward, I guess.)

Second thread: You already know what to do. I will share what someone told me years ago. Actually, what several people–okay, many people–have told me over and over throughout my life:

“Everything you need to know is already in your heart.”

They didn’t mean my heart can tell me how to perform brain surgery, or fix a sump pump, of course. But when it comes to making decisions, making good choices, taking even sought-after advice, it either feels right or it doesn’t. It feels good, or it doesn’t. And even if you do what you think is right, and it doesn’t work out, well, sometimes the wrong decisions get you to the right place to make a better decision.

Example: I went to University of Michigan not because it was good for my art career (it wasn’t) or because they offered me a good financial package (they didn’t) or because it was my first college choice (it wasn’t.) I went there because my boyfriend went there. The self-absorbed, emotionally abusive boyfriend who broke up with me half a dozen times, in cruel ways, before I finally wised up. (See? I’m actually a slow learner!)

But years later, that’s where I met my husband, who is wonderful and loyal and supportive, and we’ve now been together 35 years. A bad decision got me to a better place.

The third thread is, we are the story we tell about ourselves. Take that story about college. I could tell you about the sorry-ass people I dated, the dreary jobs I held (and the crazy bosses), the depressing living situations I put up with, how I couldn’t get into art school, how sad and needy and frightened I was, etc. (A beloved neighbor, an elderly woman, was murdered by a serial killer. That haunted me for years.)

Or I can choose to tell you the story of how the wonderful art history classes on prehistoric art became the foundation for my art later in life. Or the story told by an inspirational English lit teacher, whose retelling of the Battle of Hastings in the Norman Invasion forever etched the power of stories in my heart. Or the story of the friendships I formed there that have lasted a lifetime, the dogs I met that captured my heart forever, my first experience with volunteerism, and my first big, empowering, grownup decision to go to graduate school. And how that neighbor’s death inspired me to create a powerful grief writing exercise years later.

You, too, have choices on how to tell your life story. You can drown in the sadness and despair that life entails, or you can recognize what Jane Mcgonigal calls the gifts of post-traumatic growth.

Which this reader has done. And is doing.

The fourth thread is about the five regrets found at the end of life. (Were you surprised that the five regrets are the antithesis of the five gifts of post-traumatic growth? I was! And you thought I was wise…!!)

The fifth thread is what faith means to me: We never truly know the impact our decisions, our choices, our very presence in the world. When I receive a letter, like the one I got from Lorri, it is always out of the blue. It’s usually on a day where I’m feeling pretty frumpy, or useless, or negligible. It always says that something I said, made a difference–for a moment, for an hour, whatever.

And I know when I tell others who have made that difference, for ME, they say the same thing–that they don’t even remember saying that, or telling me that, or writing that.

Such is the nature of our presence in the world. Sharing our gifts with the world is an act of extreme faith in….something beyond what we can see or measure.

So Lorri, give it your best shot. If it means something to you, don’t give up. Until you feel it’s really time to give up and do something else. Maybe you’re thinking of something you’ve never heard of before. Maybe that’s because it really is new, and fresh, and creative.

Don’t wait for me to tell you it’s all right. I don’t know! But I cheer you on anytime you tell me you’re thinking about something wonderful, something you care about, something that makes you perk up and feel truly alive. Something that’s calling to you.

I’ve never regretted following that call. The few times I haven’t followed, that’s what I regret.

My one word of advice? Believe.

Because real faith comes from believing in yourself. Believing that you bring something to the world. That you are worth believing in.

Even if you fall flat on your face.

I remember Anne Lamott, I think in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, saying when she prays, all she asks is for a light to shine at her feet, to show the way for one step. Just one little step forward. Because that’s all we need to make our way in the world. One little step at a time. (She also says her favorite prayer is, “Help me, help me, help me…”)

A truly wise woman told me recently, “You are a wise woman who creates your own wisdom. That’s a wonderful thing.” Everything I write about is just that–finding the wisdom, the blessings, in the ordinary things–good, and bad–that cross my path.

And so, Lorri, 900 words of advice. Or one. Whatever helps you get on your way, today. And I am truly humbled by the fact that you asked me. Which is precisely why it took me so long to get back to you.

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MORE TALES OF THE BUNNY and More Lessons from the Move

The excitement of our anticipated move to California is wearing thin, as the stress of culling and packing piles up. I’ve had an indoor/online tag sale and a yarn sale. With the help of my good friend Roma Dee Holmes, the process was manageable and profitable.

But now comes the studio. And things are getting really, really hard.

Compounding the agonizing and confusing process of what goes and what stays is my upcoming Open Studio. I need to have my studio still look like…well, my studio, not a FEMA-worthy disaster site.

And of course, there is the Big Question yet to be answered:

What do I do with Bunster?

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster in her youth, with the run of my studio.

Bunster is about 129 in bunny years. She used to have the run of my studio, sitting at my feet ready to chew the hem of my jeans if she didn’t get enough attention. She would follow visitors around, knowing I’d given them Cheerios for her. She kept my friend Russ Moline of The Moses House in business by chewing through power cords for my sewing machine, my computer, and my work lamps. (He keeps my sewing machines repaired and happy.) He always had the same advice for curbing her chewing habit. “Hasenpfeffer!” he’d say cheerfully.

A few years ago, I realized I didn’t see as much of her. She hid. A lot. I realized she was losing her sight, and her hearing. She was stiff and moved more slowly. She stopped using her litter box. I hated to do it, but I set up a big cage for her with hidey boxes, a heat lamp and plenty of food and treats. She’s comfortable there, and I try to spend time with her every day.

Some days I look at her and think, “Not much more time.” Other days, she aggressively snatches a Dorito out of my hand with the same piggy grunt and runs off to happily munch her salty snack. (She’s 13, we think, and I now let her eat anything she wants.) She lets me hold her now, and I do so as much as I can.

But will I be able to bring her to California with me?

It’s one thing to have a huge cage in our mudroom. It’s another to have one in a small apartment (which is all we can afford in Santa Rosa). It’s one thing to to have her here with me today. It’s another to try to travel cross-country with two dogs, a cat and an elderly rabbit.

I’ve decided not to worry until it’s actually time to make a decision. But it’s still always on my mind.

Today I finished clearing off a huge work table in my studio, where I pile up the fabrics I’m working with. When I cleared out the space UNDER the table, I found Bunster’s last stash of….

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

See how Bunster turns an ordinary piece of fiber into a million tiny pieces.

Well, I don’t know what to call them. Except she does a beautiful job of chewing ordinary fabric into teensy-tiny frayed fragments.

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

Each tiny scrap is beautiful!

In fact, the first time she found a fabric stash, I freaked out. Until I realized she’d shredded a piece of fiber (a kilim rug scrap) into tiny beautifully-frayed “dots”, something I couldn’t do myself. Her teeth give the perfect aged time-worn look to new and vintage fabrics. Early on, I realized they were the perfect size for little pops of color in my smaller fiber pieces.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

There are some squares (how does she know??) but also delightfully free-form shapes.

She taught me that what’s in her nature–chew!–could be seen as a destructive force or a constructive process. Or better yet, a transformative process. She turns something ordinary into something else. Something with the look of antiquity.

Okay, just so we don't go too far with the woo-woo....She's also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

Okay, just so we don’t go too far with the woo-woo….She’s also not too discriminating about WHAT she turns into tiny pieces. Like this plastic bag.

My husband found me on the floor, picking up these last tiny Bunster-chewed scraps. He asked what I was doing, and laughed when I told him. Then he stopped. “You’re serious?” he said. “You’re really saving those little pieces?” Yes, I told him. I knew exactly which fabrics they were from, how little I had left of those special colors and textures, and they were the perfect size.

Yep, that's a Bunster-chewed scrap!

Yep, that’s a Bunster-chewed scrap!

And as I gathered them up, I realized this might be one of Bunster’s last gifts to me. I’ve learned so much from this fearful yet fierce, frail yet resiliant little creature.

Yes, I’ve given her a home, love, warmth, wonderful food. She’s given me so much more. Tiny scraps of color for my artwork. Lessons on letting go. Stories that help me find the blessing in even the smallest of life’s set-backs. The sure knowledge that there is a place for me in the world.

Beautiful stories are everywhere around us. If only we take the time, and open our hearts, to see them.

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SELF-CONSCIOUS CRAP

How did this little fragment get me started on an entire new series? Read on!

How did this little fragment get me started on an entire new series? Read on!

Trying too hard is the kiss of death for creative projects.

I don’t know if this happens to you. But sometimes when I’m trying to create, I get caught up in what I want my end result to be. And very quickly, I find myself totally off-course.

Now, that seems a little counter-intuitive. Aren’t we supposed to have goals? How can we accomplish anything if we don’t know what we want our end results to be???

Here’s an example right in front of your nose–literally! (You’re reading this, aren’t you?) :^)

Sometimes when I sit down to write in my blog, I think, “Wow, that was a really funny post I wrote yesterday! I’d like to do that again.”

I try to think of funny things to write about. Soon I’m trying to “force” a subject. The writing gets labored and self-conscious. I eventually quit in frustration.

This happened awhile back because I was sending samples of my writing to a new editor. As I pulled together the columns I wrote for Crafts Business magazine, I started reading them and laughing. “Damn, I’m good!” I thought. “I loved writing this column! Just look how funny these are!”

Kiss o’ death to a writer. I could not think of anything to write about for the next few days. I was trying so hard to be funny, I couldn’t even think of anything to be funny about.

Same if I try to write about something serious. I start sounding pompous about six minutes in.

If I try to make “a really great piece” when I put my fiber collages together, it gets even stickier. Suddenly, nothing looks right, nothing clicks. And halfway through, I chuck the whole thing in frustration.

There’s a similar effect for some people in martial arts. Performing a kata in front of the whole class, for example. Some get caught up in how they look to others. They forget to focus simply on what they’re doing. It’s agonizing to watch, too. Especially to those of us who realize we do the same thing when it’s our turn to perform a kata.

I think this happens because this mindset–putting our focus over “there”, “there” being someone else’s judgmental mind–gives over way too much power to our Inner Critic. We try to look at ourselves the way we think other people look at us.

The minute we set ourselves up for, “I’m going to be funny today!”, the Inner Critic is right there with us: “That’s not very funny. That’s not funny, either. Hey, maybe….mmmmm, nope. No. Sorry.”

Our Inner Critic starts out as an internal bullshit detector, a very useful creature to have in our brain. It can keep us from getting too full of ourselves. But when you let him drive all the time, then he becomes that Non-Stop Inner Critic–a lethal combination. And putting that guy in the yoke with your Inner Artist/Performer/Class Clown means your brain is going to go in circles. (I had a metaphor going there but I lost it. Sorry. It was something about oxen.) The two Inners are too busy fighting about who’s in charge. Your creative movement goes right out the (car) door. (Barn door??)

We temporarily lose our way by focusing on the effect we want to create. We have stepped away from our authentic voice–the place where we focus on what’s important to us–and instead given focus to what we think other people will find important.

Once you try to work for other people, you are lost. Mostly because “other people” is too big an audience. Too many points of view to consider, too much ground to cover.

Come to think of it, that’s why singers and speakers are often told to envision themselves performing for a single member of their audience. It’s so they can bring that focus down to one concentrated point.

I’ve found a few approaches to working through the self-conscious crap thing.

PLAY. Warm up with little exercises that aren’t as emotionally loaded with expectation. With fiber, that might mean working with a tight color scheme, and simply playing with smaller compositions (I call them “fragments”) and different uses of those colors. The “play” or “study” aspect allows my brain to get flowing in that more natural creative mindset again. “Hey, that one looks cool! What if I used a pumpkin-colored button instead of goldenrod?” Soon something exciting is happening. The brain is focused simply on what really matters to you as a visual artist–composition, contrast, eye movement. Your creative footing becomes sure again. You can move confidently ahead.

Yes. No. Yes!

Yes. No. Yes!

PRACTICE. With martial arts, it’s doing those damn kata about a jillion times, until our body can almost do it in our sleep. As the body moves with confidence about what movement comes next, we can focus on what really matters–balance, rhythm, power. Your footing literally becomes sure again. You know what to do.

PAY ATTENTION. It’s paying attention to what matters to me. Forget about that audience for the moment.

Is there an incident that’s bugging me? Why did it bug me? Aha! Once I have insight into that, I can expand upon it and write about it. Did something frustrating happen? How did I work through it? Aha! There’s another insight, an idea of how to stay committed to my dream when things get hard. And here’s way to use humor to get through the some of the scruffier parts of life.

When you start with what catches your interest, your heart, and go from there, the work will follow, naturally. When these basic self-focus points are created, then the work can move on more naturally to something more powerful.
Your audience will just naturally come right along with you.

And if they don’t, well, at least maybe your mother thinks you’re funny.

(“Self-Conscious Crap” originally published on my old Radio Userland blog on April 13, 2007.
And I was not trying to be funny nor serious, so there.)

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